You’d be hard-pushed to find an elite athlete in Britain, and possibly the world, who has a more thoughtful, wise and generally healthy approach to their sport than Mark Stewart.

All too often in the cut-throat world of elite sport, athletes talk about results in life or death terms; performances can make or break their mental health and their entire self-worth.

But Stewart is the absolute antithesis of this unforgiving attitude that permeates so much of elite sport.

Instead, he takes a sensible, intelligent and considered approach. But perhaps surprisingly, it comes at no cost to his competitive edge and if anything, a somewhat more relaxed mindset has benefitted Stewart immeasurably, something that was proven by him winning madison silver at the Cycling World Championships in Glasgow just a few weeks ago.

“I see cycling like going to watch a movie – you go to the cinema and it’s escapism. You’re fully immersed for two hours but then you come out of the cinema and it hasn’t changed your life – you don’t, for the next week, let that movie get you down,” the 27-year-old Dundonian says. 

“And I feel like that’s what bike racing is for me– it’s escapism. I’ll go to a race, fully immerse myself in it and for ten minutes after the race, I’ll let that emotion overwhelm me. But then I remember it’s just a bike race.”

This mindset has not been developed overnight, however.

Stewart was once one of British Cycling’s prodigies and throughout his early twenties, was a part of the governing body’s elite programme based in Manchester.

He was a clear talent; winning World and European Championship silverware, as well as becoming Commonwealth Games champion in 2018 at the age of just 22.

However, in 2020, after being unceremoniously dropped from British Cycling’s programme, it appeared to everyone, Stewart included, that his days of winning global championship medals were over.

But Stewart was one of the few who garnered some positives from the pandemic. Basing himself in New Zealand alongside his now fiancé, Kiwi rider, Emma Cummings, Stewart began developing a plan that would ultimately culminate in the world silver medal he won just a few weeks ago.

While working full-time, and at times, rising as early as 3am to shoehorn his training into his day, Stewart was riding his bike as well as he ever had.

Following a phone call in early 2022 with the recently-installed head coach of men’s endurance at British Cycling, Ben Greenwood, Stewart once again donned the GB skinsuit.

A strong performance at the Track Nations Cup in Canada in April of this year was the precursor to his selection for this summer’s World Championships with his silver medal in the madison, alongside Oli Wood, somewhat surprisingly given what he’d endured over recent years, producing a mix of emotions within Stewart despite him acknowledging it’s his greatest achievement.

“When I got dropped from the GB programme, I still went out and rode my bike the next day because being a cyclist is part of my identity and I knew that wouldn’t change,” he says.

“Then when I spoke to Ben (Greenwood), he was keen to have me involved again, all on the understanding that I was basically the reserve rider. I know how elite sport works though, and I knew that gave me a pretty good chance of riding in Glasgow, which is how it turned out.

“But then only two weeks before Glasgow, I caught Covid for the first time, so it was at the worst possible moment to catch it so at one stage, I wasn’t even sure I’d make it to the Worlds.

“In the end, I was over the moon with silver and I think it is my best-ever result.

“You change a bit as you get older and so now, I think it’s fine to have contrasting feelings. Now I know it’s ok to be gutted at not getting gold but still be delighted with silver. And then you can decide which of those feelings consume you. I’ve come fourth before and didn’t have anything to show for it so to have a medal was lovely.

Stewart, as is the case with many endurance riders, plies his trade on both the track and the road. 

He’s currently riding for the New Zealand team, Bolton Equities Black Spoke, and it’s in talking about where his specialty lies, his level-headedness, once again, shines through. And it’s almost certainly his attitude to track cycling that led him to the podium in Glasgow.

“If I was to tell someone what I am, I’d say I’m a road cyclist because that’s what pays my bills. And I consider track my passion and my hobby,” he says. 

“Even when I was heading to the World Championships, that’s still how I felt about it – nobody was paying me for it, I was just there because I love it.

“When I was on the British Cycling programme, how I performed at things like the Worlds dictated absolutely everything; my next paycheck, my next few months’ schedule and there was so much hingeing on my results. 

“Whereas it was so refreshing to go into Glasgow and know that it was all about my own personal ambition. That was a massive difference. I still felt the pressure, but it was all internal and I think that’s easier to deal with.”

Despite Stewart’s recent success on the track, it’s back to the day job this week, as he lines up for the Tour of Britain, which begins tomorrow in Greater Manchester, snaking through England before finishing in the Welsh town of Caerphilly next Sunday.

With Stewart clearly in excellent shape, it’s unsurprising he has lofty hopes for the next eight days.

“I’m really hoping to do well. Exactly what that looks like, though, I’m not entirely sure,” he says. 

“I’d love to win the race overall but I’m aware that there’s about five to ten cyclists in the world at the moment who are just a level above everyone else. 

“So I’ve prepared like I want to win it but we’ll have to see exactly who’s on the start line. 

“If I can win a stage, that’ll be fantastic and if I can be top ten overall, that’d be cool.”